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Sometimes, being useful is enough

I am my own harshest critic, and as editor I am alert to all the flaws in our work. The stories we didn’t get quite right, or those I wish we’d pursued and didn’t, or a lousy headline that doesn’t do justice to the story. Then there are the journalistic clichés that can slip in when people are working in a 24-hour news cycle – if I can eradicate “explosive” and “massive” from The Age, my work here will be done.

But there are some weeks when we do a great job. You can argue about the purpose of journalism, and journalists can get highfalutin about it. Searching for the truth, holding the powerful to account, shining light in dark places, all fair enough at times. More important is journalism that is useful to the people we serve – our readers and subscribers. And reliable, accurate journalism during a pandemic is useful to Victorians because this pandemic affects all of us.

Last year during the grim winter of COVID, The Age ran a seven-day-a-week live blog for almost 150 days. I have said this before, but we never felt as close to our community as we did then. Victorians were hungry for reliable information about COVID-19 numbers and what they meant. They devoured the graphics that helped make sense of the data – checking what was within 5km of your home was hugely popular. We reported on the science of coronavirus, the effect on our economy and the impact on our children being homeschooled. We drilled into the flaws in the hotel quarantine system that led to months of lockdown.

We have revived our live blog for this latest outbreak and our now two-week lockdown. Again, hundreds of thousands of people visit each day. As we did last time, we are making the blog free for all readers because, while it’s expensive to produce – it takes two journalists a day, as well as production staff – all Victorians deserve quality journalism during a public health crisis.

There are millions of Victorians doing what they can in this pandemic – people helping out neighbours, skilled health professionals and public servants, small business people getting through again. At The Age, we can contribute by producing public service journalism. We are honoured to have that privilege.

We have looked at why Victoria is the “lockdown” state and whether experts agree with the official insistence that this is a fast-moving “beast”. We have reported on the impact on school children and teachers, casual workers suddenly without an income, whether incentives to get vaccinated have merit. We have published expert opinions on the real state of Victoria’s economy, whether the Morrison government has bungled quarantine and the vaccination rollout, and the state government’s responsibility, too. And the ever-thoughtful Waleed Aly on why the “ordinary parry and thrust of political life” is not serving us well.

Like many of you, Age staff are trying to help their children with remote learning while working at an intense pace themselves. Like many of you, some of us are bone tired and sick to death of it. And still, Age journalists turn up to work because what we do matters to our community, now more than ever. I have never felt so proud of The Age and all the people who work for it. Sometimes, being useful is its own reward.

Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor.

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